We are going to take a different slant from most of what we have recently read on how to choose a tai chi class because we would like to bring the reality of our financial, physical, and geographical situation into the picture. Suggestions surrounding how to choose a class usually prioritize “finding a good teacher.” We see a lot of holes in this argument. Here is why.
If you are beginning at tai chi, how do you know what good is?
Of course we want a good teacher but tai chi isn’t as prevalent as soccer. What is available in your neck of the woods?
A school that is a good match for you can introduce you to good material, people with like interests, and connect you with the many teachers who are traveling and giving classes throughout the world.
Suggestions can be made such as: make sure you find a highly qualified teacher, don’t pay too much, you have to pay to get good instruction.
Here is the problem with these general assertions: This preconceived notion of “good” reduces the number of people actually practicing tai chi because the bar is set too high. We feel that many people who can benefit from, add to, and enjoy tai chi struggle to find a good class and just give up.
How do we know who is good and what is worthwhile?
The truth is that most people that have developed tai chi skills have spent some time at a mediocre school. Worthwhile means that you are enjoying yourself, learning something, and hopefully interacting with great people. You learn to recognize people who are truly skilled and know if your instruction is of value. Worse would to not begin tai chi at all if you are being drawn to it.
Here are some general guidelines before choosing a tai chi class:
- Attend a class and participate without paying. Attending a class will let you meet your future classmates, understand the class style and pace, and assure that the commute (traffic!) make your attendance possible. Some classes, such as workshops and university classes cannot be attended ahead of time. These normally have a fixed short timeframe so a short commitment is reasonable.
- Decide if health, flexibility, or martial applications interest you the most. Tai chi contains both health and martial benefits but a school’s philosophy can determine what percentage of the curriculum is spent on either or both.
- Do you like the people and atmosphere? Let’s face it, our time is precious. Interactions in a martial arts school can be extremely rewarding and fun. You can learn more from an average teacher in a humble environment than from a good teacher in a bad environment. The bragging/infighting will bother you, your attendance will fall off and unless you find another school then the martial arts community will lose another great addition – you. For example, a student of mine was moving to a small community and he asked my opinion on the schools in town. I contacted them and actually suggested that he attend a Judo school. Why? The people were great and kind, it was fairly priced and their eastern focus (inclusion of culture and respect) had all the benefits that a martial arts school should entail. He has since joined a new tai chi school but remained training and invested in his development for those two years.
The benefits of tai chi are too numerous to count. Meeting new people, improving your health, and becoming part of a 2000 year old tradition is only a class visit away!